Translation Comparison Within Texts English Language Essay

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Translators face several difficulties when approaching a Latin text, and these difficulties have been identified by Michael Grant as being the readability of a piece, how well the author's original style is transposed into the English, and the closeness of the translation to the Latin without becoming too literal. When these three issues are looked at in connection with Pliny the Younger's letter VII.XXVII, and the accompanying translations, by Betty Radice in 1963, and P G Walsh in 2006, we see that both translations have their own issues and their own strengths, and how certain aspects have, even over the past 40 years, become more important when translating Latin.

To compare the translations of Radice and Walsh effectively, we must first take into account the time in which they were writing, their target audience, and the view of Pliny the Younger at the time as an author for their target audience. Radice's 'The Letters of the Younger Pliny' was published in 1963 by Penguin Classics, a company who imply that their original aim in publishing Classical texts translated into English was to bring it out of the "domain of students and academics" (About Us - Penguin Classics UK Bookshop and Online Bookstore - Penguin Books), and to provide "good, readable editions for everyone else" (About Us - Penguin Classics UK Bookshop and Online Bookstore - Penguin Books). However, by the time Radice's translation was published, Penguin Classics had become widely used in schools, and Pliny, as ever, was widely taught, as he provides the only surviving account of the eruption of Vesuvius. As a result, Radice's audience would have been schoolchildren of the 1960s, although she would have written with older readers in mind also. Walsh's translation, meanwhile, was published by Oxford World Classics, under the Oxford University Press, who declare, even before the inner title page of the translation, that their aim is to bring "readers closer to the world's great literature" (P.G. Walsh, 2006). Like the Penguin Classics, the Oxford World Classics series has become a classroom favourite amongst Latin students, who regularly study Pliny VI.XVI at GCSE level, although these books lack the same popularity as the extensive Penguin Classics' collection.

The most obvious issue that arises when translating is "how far from the servile path one ought to be allowed to stray - how close or how loose the paraphrase can legitimately be" (Grant, 1987, p. 89), and it is one that sets translations apart. A good translation, according to Grant, is one that stays within touching distance of the Latin, but doesn't sacrifice the English because of it. For example, he dismisses the "doctrine of Edwin and Willa Muir that even to change word order…is to 'commit an irremediable injury'" (Grant, 1987, p. 89), whilst also disregarding imitation as a viable form of translation.

Radice, in her translation of Pliny's letter, diverts from the Latin in the very first sentence, applying a possessive personal pronoun to "otium" (l.1), which doesn't exist in the Latin, and turning the gerunds "discendi" and "docendi" (l.1) to the present infinitives of their respective English counterparts. Walsh acts in an identical manner with regard to the pronoun, and a similar one concerning the alteration of the gerunds, despite their mutual source, the notes of A.N. Sherwin-White mentioning nothing of it (see Sherwin-White ad loc). However, he also diverts further from the Latin than Radice, translating the Latin "mihi discendi et tibi docendi" (l.1) with "for me to play the pupil, and you the master" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 181).

The translation of "numen…aliquod" (l.3) is also dealt with almost identically by the two translators, Radice rendering it into English as "some sort of supernatural power" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 203), and Walsh as "some supernatural power" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 181). This is done without regard of Sherwin-White's note, claiming that a "divine force" (see Sherwin-White ad loc) was often held responsible for the animation of spirits, and the translation avoiding any mention of divinity may be done to circumvent any religious criticism, although it strays from the original Latin and Pliny's possible meaning by doing so.

When translating perfect passive participles, both Walsh and Radice have different techniques, and this is evident even in the first instance of one in the letter, "perterrito" (l.9). A literal translation of this perfect passive participle in the context would be 'to the having been terrified man'. However, Walsh makes an entire sentence out of this one word, "He was petrified" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 181), while Radice creates a purpose clause, translating it as "To allay his fears" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 203). Walsh, at least, remains closer to the Latin than Radice, as nothing is said by Pliny that makes us believe that the ghost in this account aimed to calm Rufus down, and she invents an entire aspect of the sentence in her translation.

Similar issues present themselves when Radice and Walsh reach "quia suspecta vilitas" (l.33), Radice adopting a loose translation combining this phrase with the preceding ablative absolute "audito…pretio" (l.32) to create the English "His suspicions were aroused when he heard the low price" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 203). Walsh, meanwhile, stays closer to the Latin, translating "suspecta", not as a noun, but as a verb, taking 'est' as being implied, resulting in the translation "he was suspicious because it was so cheap" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 182).

However, present participles provide far less of an issue to the two translators, who approach "scribentis" (l.46) identically, as "as he wrote" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 182) (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 204). Although this is not a literal translation, it offers a higher quality of English without compromising the meaning.

As mentioned earlier, there is an ablative absolute in Pliny's letter, and it is dealt with in a similar way to the majority of the Latin by the translators, Radice retaining the meaning, but changing the structure, as has been explained before, and Walsh sticking close to the Latin, translating the ablative absolute "audito…pretio" (l.32) as "on hearing the price" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 182).

In his essay, 'Translating Latin Prose', Michael Grant makes a point of the art of the translator being the ability to imitate the style of the original Latin author, in this case, and in his essay, Pliny the Younger. As with the issue of remaining close to the Latin, Grant proposes that "we must respect the spirit of the ancient work…but not if it means torturing the English and it is English no longer" (Grant, 1987, p. 85). In short, the "poetical character" (Grant, 1987, p. 87) of Pliny ought not to stand in the way of readable English in translating, but must also come through on occasion.

When Pliny writes about the ghost of the second story, and the noises Athenodorus hears, the Latin offers at least one clear opportunity for a translator to pick up more meaning than is merely in the meaning of the words, and this is when he uses the onomatopoeic "concuti" (l.39). Both Walsh and Radice pick up on this poetic use of the word, and translate it accordingly as "clanking" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 204), and "clank" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 182).

Pliny is also a great fan of asyndeton, which he uses in the second tale, when Athenodorus demands various things as evening approaches. The Latin reads as a quick list, "iubet sterni sibi in prima domus parte, poscit pugillares stilum lumen, suos omnes in interior dimittit" (ll.34-6); Radice fails to show this in her translation, breaking the Latin into two sentences and introducing a conjunction between the first two clauses, "he gave orders that a couch was to be made up for him in the front part of the house, and asked for his notebooks, pen, and a lamp. He sent all his servants to the inner rooms" (Betty Radice, 1963, pp. 203-4). Walsh also divides the Latin into two sentences, and inserts a conjunction, although his division differs from Radice's, in that it occurs between the first and second clauses, "he ordered a couch be made for him in the front of the house. He asked for tablets, a pen, and a lamp, and consigned all his servants to the inner part of the house" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 182). Both these translations ignore Pliny's asyndeton, which speeds up the Latin, and instead add in a full stop, which slows the English, without offering anything to the quality of the English.

A final issue which is highlighted by Grant throughout his essay, 'Translating Latin Prose', is the readability of a piece, which is entirely dependent upon how literal the translation is, and how close to Pliny's style the translator stays. However, beyond that, if the English fails to convey the meaning of the Latin whilst also being readable to the target audience, then it falls short as a useful translation, no matter how accurate, or loyal to the original style it may be.

Both Radice and Walsh aim, as their publishers demand, to target schoolchildren, and educate them in Pliny. A secondary aim of Radice's translation was to bring the classics to the majority of people, who are unable to read the original Latin themselves. This means that Radice writes in a more natural form of English, diverting from the Latin more than Walsh, so as to supply her readers with a flowing English translation. This is evident in the introduction of the second account, in which she omits "nonne" (l.17) for the sake of better English, translating "Iam illud nonne et magis terribile et non minus mirum est quod exponam ut accepi" (ll.17-18) as "Now consider whether the following story, which I will tell you just as it was told to me, is not quite as remarkable and even more terrifying" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 203). She also inserts "the following story" (Betty Radice, 1963, p. 203), and makes "accepi" (l.18) passive so as to improve the English, although the sense of the Latin is retained.

Walsh, meanwhile, refuses to sacrifice the Latin, introducing the second account with "Hear now this second story, which I shall recount as I heard it; surely it is more terrifying and no less astonishing than the first" (P.G. Walsh, 2006, p. 181). Like Radice, Walsh inserts words in the English so as to give the reader a better sense of what is being said, but unlike Radice, he does not alter with the pre-existing Latin, even if it makes the translation seem clumsy occasionally.

In conclusion, Radice diverts from the Latin more than Walsh, aiming to provide a flowing poetic prose, in accordance to Pliny's original style. However, Walsh, in staying closer to the Latin provides a translation which serves a different purpose in aiding students to see the grammatical structure of the Latin and how a sentence may be translated into functional English whilst retaining the majority of its form. Both translators attempt to imitate Pliny on occasion, capturing onomatopoeias when they occur, but when it comes to rarer features of language in English, such as asyndeton, they do not render it effectively, despite the ability to do so. Which of the translations is better, however, depends on the use that it is going to be put to, as both have flaws and benefits intrinsic to the style of the translators.

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